This might be a shocker to some, but I grew up Mormon.
It started with my mother forcing my siblings and I to sit with these 2 white boys in suits to talk about God for about an hour once a week.
I was 12 at the time and literally not about that life. I had never even heard of the religion prior to those first encounters. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Nope, didn’t ring a bell.
I wasn’t even trying to be religious in any kind of way, but my mother insisted that we learn more about the church. As you can probably tell, I literally had no choice in the matter.
So boom, we get the lessons right. I was cool with most of their messages, but I had my reservations:
- The church teaches that all members should follow the Word of Wisdom, which is a law of health that instructs members to abstain from alcohol, tea/coffee, and tobacco.
- They mentioned that the church did not allow dating until the age of 16, and dating had to be done in groups to avoid any compromising situations. The church also taught it’s members to dress modestly as a way to respect our bodies and God. They also spoke about abstaining from sex or sexual activities.
Hmmm yea I had questions and needed answers, so one day I pulled the missionaries to the side and decided to give them some context before bombarding them with all my questions.
- I already had my first boyfriend. It was a pretty PG-13 kind of relationship. We mostly made out and he would grab my thighs from time to time. Super innocent if you ask me, but those poor missionaries felt so uncomfortable when I shared that with them. My main question was whether or not I was disqualified from becoming a member of the church since they prohibit activities such as kissing before the age of 16. Their response: Nope.
2. I lived by the mantra of “If you got it, just flaunt it” and that is EXACTLY what I did. I have big boobs and nice legs, so I made sure everything I wore accentuated those features. As you can probably imagine, dressing modestly did not appeal to me in the least bit. I asked them if I can be Mormon and dress how I’d like? Their answer: Yes, but I would be blocking my own blessings if I decided to do that.
After my “confessions”, the missionaries just stared at me in complete shock, After a few awkward moments, they smiled at me and assured me that I would be fine. That God forgives. That I could get baptized and start a whole new life. That I don’t have to be perfect. God just wants me to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and to strive for a life of rightiousness. Nothing more. Nothing less.
For the first time since receiving the missionary lessons, I felt no judgment or shame. I had been walking around with this pain of feeling dirty, unworthy, unloved. I was always guilt-tripped into thinking I was the worst Christian
I couldn’t believe it. I literally felt hope.
Life wasn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows. Family life sucked. School sucked due to bullying and lonliness. I was depressed.
But for some reason, the idea of being baptized and starting fresh gave me the hope I needed to move in a positive direction.
So, I gave the missionaries a chance and I literally felt my heart change over time. I felt a strong desire to convert and dedicate my life to God. I set up my baptismal date and officially became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in July of 2000.
My life as a Mormon – 12 to 17
My transition was a bit rough. There was a long adjustment period full of me trying to blend in as much as possible with a culture that was completely opposite of my own.
Most of the members were white, middle to upper class, and pretty judgmental. I was one of the few people of color in the pews. I felt like an outsider.
I was one of the few youth members who watched tv, listened to non-church music, and who never attended Seminary or had Family Home Evening. I didn’t know any of the hymns, couldn’t quote scripture to save my life, and had no idea what General Conference was.
Moms didn’t want their daughters to come over my house because “it was in New London” and I was constantly policed for the way I dressed or expressed myself.
However, I did my best to fit in. The youth members were welcoming when I attended church and church activities so I tried my hardest to be friends with them and learn their ways.
They taught me as much as they could. They gave me alternative curse words to use such as “fudge” or “heck.” They tried to make modesty “cool.” They churchsplained group dating. They did the best they could.
Overall, they were cool. They weren’t bad people. But they weren’t my people. We didn’t have the same sense of humor, the same interests, or the same background. So naturally, I considered them my “church friends”, but outside of church I associated with my regular friends and family.
Since I didn’t feel 100% connected with them, my desire to go to church diminished over the years. My mother would have screaming matches with me almost every Sunday morning forcing me to go. It wasn’t fair. I thought we had agency (choice). Why was she making me go when I didn’t want to?
By the time I went to college, mom was no longer in the picture so church was pretty much thrown to the curb. The closest one was about an hour away on public transit, and I didn’t have a car so my motivation to attend dissipated pretty quickly. I was also living the college dream of partying, smoking, and occasional hook-ups… all the stuff the church tells you not to do.
Despite all that, I still felt connected to the church in some way and proudly identified as Mormon. I would still pray, read the scriptures, and participated in monthly fasts. I would also pay for tithing from time to time.
But I was considered an inactive member, and I was completely okay with that. I liked to worship on my own terms and was able to establish a strong connection with God during that time. It felt liberating.
Then I graduated college. The economy was trash. My dream job offer in DC fell through. Had to move back home.
I was PISSED.
So I turned to drinking and partying to soothe the pain. That didn’t last too long, so I turned to God and started to attend church regularly.
That’s when I met my mentor. He literally changed my life. Because of him, I took a risk and moved to Utah, which was one of the best things I could have done for myself.
At any rate, I told myself – I am going to be 100% Mormon, now is my chance! And that is exactly what I did. I went to church every Sunday, attending activities, went to the Temple often, held church callings, followed the Word of Wisdom. I was as Mormon as they’d come.
But I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I had to give up my culture – which is part of my identity as a person, to be a devout member of the Church. So after 3 years, I decided that it wasn’t 100% for me.
Age 27 – now
I eventually moved to New York and started living this weird Mormon/Non-Mormom hybrid life. I would still go to church, but on my terms. I would still drink, but socially (though I had my moments haha). I just learned to live a more balanced life that made sense to me. I also explored other churches and learned that worshipping can take many forms and not just the checklist that I was accustomed to in the Mormon religion (it’s not an official list but culturally, it exists). But I can’t deny that growing up Mormon has changed the way I view the world. I think the teachings of the church encouraged me to ask questions, to seek deep spiritual connection, to forgive and to love unconditionally, to live with purpose, to be a better Christian, and to believe in God and his miracles. I may not be as devout as I used to be, but I will forever be grateful for how I have developed into the person that I am today.
It has been a beautiful journey so far, and I have had a lot of great moments of self-discovery. I find so much beauty in the world and try my best to connect with everything and everyone in an authentic way. It can take many forms: worshipping, meditation, prayer, solo hikes, etc. Regardless of the format, I feel so much more connected to God, to myself, and to others than I ever have in my life.
Do I still consider myself Mormon? Yes and no. I admit that I am a “bad” Mormon, and not sure if I have a strong opinion about removing my records from the Church. I don’t agree with them on many things, but becoming an Ex-Mo seems so “final” to me. Maybe I will take the plunge one day, or maybe I won’t. For now, I will continue to be inactive and see how things go.